grief and sleep

Boy, do I envy my cats’ ability to fall asleep any place, any time.

I’ve lived with chronic physical pain for over a decade and there are nights when it is hard to go to sleep-when it is impossible to ignore the pain.  But I have never thought of myself as having trouble sleeping.

Until now.

When grieving a child, you are oh, so very tired.  Yet often sleep eludes you.

“He who learns must suffer.  And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”


Lying in bed, in the dark, my mind kicks in to hyper-drive.  With no external stimulation to provide distraction, images come unbidden and unwelcome to taunt me.  I work hard to guide the train of thought to a less tortuous route.

So I thought I would share some ways that help me make it through the long nights:

  • Only lie down when you are tired enough to expect that you can fall asleep.  I am physically active each day so that at least my body is ready for rest.
  • Don’t drink caffeinated beverages after 12 noon and don’t eat heavy foods past mid-afternoon.
  • Be selective about what you listen to, watch or read in the hours leading up to bedtime.  I try to feed my mind images and information that will help me focus on more positive themes when I close my eyes.
  • Keep a pad and pencil next to the bed to jot down last minute reminders of things you might need to remember tomorrow.  I try to think ahead and have a rough plan of action for the next day so that my mind can rest.
  • Make sure you are physically comfortable–room temperature and bed clothes appropriate to the season, pajamas in soft fabrics, well-hydrated, take analgesics as needed for physical pain, etc.
  • Make whatever concessions are needed to hold anxiety at bay.  I have a nightlight in my bathroom that casts a soft glow into my bedroom.  I keep my cell phone and home phone next to me because once you get “that call” you feel like you must be instantly accessible to loved ones.  My cat sleeps with me–purring is a great comforter.
  • When I turn out the light and turn over, I purposely focus my mind’s attention and heart’s affection on trusting God to help me drift off to sleep.

“I can lie down and go to sleep, and I will wake up again, because the Lord ·gives me strength [sustains/upholds me].”

Psalm 3:5 EXB

  • If you wake up in the middle of the night, try reciting Scripture, poems, humming hymns or other music to lull yourself back to sleep. I will sometimes do mental work like planning a project or trying to recall a childhood memory–anything that might make me tired.
  • If  you can’t go back to sleep in 30 minutes or so, get up and get on with the new day–even if it is only hours old.  There’s no use lying in bed and tossing and turning. While I may be exhausted for that day, I’m almost certain to be able to sleep better the next night.

Sleep is important.

If you find that you are unable to get more than a few hours sleep for longer than two weeks–talk to your doctor.  There is NO SHAME in asking for help. And there are many products available that are non-habit forming and suitable for short-term use.

It is impossible to do the work grief requires if you are worn out from lack of sleep in addition to carrying the pain of losing your child.

“We sleep, but the loom of life never stops, and the pattern which was weaving when the sun went down is weaving when it comes up in the morning.”

Henry Ward Beecher

If we can help ourselves get the rest we need, we are better able to face the challenge of each new day.

Author: Melanie

I am a shepherd, wife and mother of four amazing children, three that walk the earth with me and one who lives with Jesus. This is a record of my grief journey and a look into the life I didn't choose. If you are interested in joining a community of bereaved parents leaning on the promises of God in Christ, please like the public Facebook page, "Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child" and join the conversation.

4 thoughts on “grief and sleep”

  1. Thanks for this post on sleep and grief, Melanie. Can identify with everything you’ve said. First few months I genuinely did not think I would wake up , my anxiety and heart racing.
    My mind races and the more I think about going to sleep the more wakeful I feel.
    I’ve got a few things I do which definitely help me..a nice hot bath before bed if you can, a glass of milk about an hour before, but one of the best is fresh air before bedtime, a short walk if you can manage it. I always read before I put nightlight out until my eyes are heavy. The room has to be total darkness. I only have one cup of coffee a day before midday, too. I’ve switched to herbal tea.
    One of the only things I can cling on to is that I dream , not every night but now and again and my son appears to me ..that is my absolute miracle in my feels so real..I genuinely feel elated but then I wake and …it isn’t real, that’s all it was..a dream. I have to wait for that day when we will be reunited..we ALL will, please believe xxxx
    And my comfort during the night..reading your blogs Melanie about Dominic and all the feelings you feel, so honesty, thanks for comments of other parents..often in the middle of the night because you have reached out the hand of friendship to us all x


  2. Thank you so much for discussing this and for your tips for getting some sleep in. I have been sleep deprived since our son died last summer – which means that I have another reason for going about my day as a zombie. It helps to know that I am not the only one affected this way!
    My doctor would not write a prescription for sleeping pills because he said it carries a risk for dementia – but so does sleep deprivation!
    Over time, this is what I have found to help me with long nights: I don’t go to bed until I am totally exhausted, and then I read a novel until I drift off. When I wake in the middle of the night, I get up and do a session of Pilates that my instructor has posted on the internet. This not only exhausts me to make sleep come more quickly, it helps with keeping my back pain reduced from old injuries. The next time I awake, I either listen to a session of Yoga Nidra or listen to relaxing singing bowls music.
    It is hard on anyone who shares the house with me, but I have found ways to keep from disturbing their sleep – I am learning to walk well in the dark. And to close doors silently.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: